Eligibility of Massage Therapy in Alberta

When determining whether a medical expense is eligible for reimbursement in a Health Spending Account (HSA), the criteria is determination of acceptance under the Income Tax Act (ITA). If it is allowed by the ITA and can be claimed on the personal tax return, then it can be covered in an employer sponsored Private Health Plan (PHSP/HSA). The ITA states that payments to qualified medical practitioners are eligible, but it does not expand upon which medical professions are considered qualified. The reason is because regulation and designation of medical professions is a Provincial jurisdiction. Currently in Alberta, while your acupuncture treatment (Acupuncturist) may be covered by your HSA, your massage therapy (Massage Therapist) may not be ineligible.

Brief Overview of Alberta’s Health Regulation System

Alberta regulates all health professions through Alberta Health and Wellness and, out of all the health professions that it regulates, the majority are governed under the Health Professions Act (HPA). Under the HPA, health professions are organized into regulatory bodies called “colleges” and are delegated powers and authorities for self-governance. The HPA requires that the colleges carry out governance responsibilities in a manner that protects and serves the public interest. The colleges would fulfill their responsibilities by: (1) setting entry requirements including education, training and examinations, (2) setting standards for professional practice, (3) setting continuing competency requirements, and (4) investing complaints and imposing disciplinary actions.

Current Status: Massage Therapist

Currently, there is no absolute regulatory body for the profession of Massage Therapy within Alberta. As a result, the market for a massage therapist is entirely on a “buyer beware” model. Their are numerous and diverse training institutions offering programs anywhere from 250 hours of combined massage and reflexology up to 2200. It does not matter which end of the spectrum your training falls under in Alberta, at the end of the day, you can still call yourself a Massage Therapist, since the profession is unregulated, and therefore the title is unprotected.

Massage Therapy Regulation: Alberta

In mid 2009, three of Alberta’s massage therapy associations created the Transitional Steering Committtee (TSC), whose sole objective is to initiate regulation of Massage Therapy. The TSC’s latest update was in July 2011. At that time the TSC was developing a Draft Practice Statement for the profession of Massage Therapy which would define and therefore regulate the professional services in the practice. With no time frame and divergent opinions, the process for the regulation of Massage Therapy has bogged down with no further updates as of Jan 2013.

History of Acupuncture Regulation: Alberta

The acupuncture profession has been regulated in Alberta by the Acupuncture Committee since 1988. In 2006, an interim council of the College and Association of Acupuncturists of Alberta (CAAA) was created from the collaboration of three professional associations: The Acupuncture Society of Alberta, the Alberta Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctors and the Canadian Health Professions Acupuncture Society. On January 1, 2011, the CAAA officially replaced the Acupuncture Committee as the regulatory body for acupuncture in Alberta. Today, the CAAA remains the regulatory body of acupuncture in Alberta.